THE HANGOVER REPORT – Ivan Fischer’s riveting DON GIOVANNI is opera at its most potent

Christopher Maltman and company in "Don Giovanni"

Christopher Maltman and the company of Ivan Fischer’s staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”

I had missed Ivan Fischer’s acclaimed, stripped-down production of Don Giovanni when it last graced New York in 2011 as part of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. However, in subsequent years, I was fortunate to be able to catch – during their brief stints back in the city – Mr. Fischer and his superb Budapest Festival Orchestra’s transcendent semi-staged production of The Marriage of Figaro and their audacious, stirring rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth. It was with these miraculous memories that I entered the Rose Theater for one of this past weekend’s highly anticipated, sold out performances (there were only three) of the notoriously difficult-to-stage Don Giovanni, a return engagement of Mr. Fischer’s staging which once again made an appearance at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m happy to report that, long story short, this Don Giovanni was one for the ages.

Not since Diane Paulus’s extreme “meat locker” version for Chicago Opera Theater nearly a decade ago have I come across a staging of Don Giovanni that understands and basks in the piece’s dark underbelly. Unlike Ms. Paulus’s shock jock approach, Mr. Fischer simply looks to the astonishing score to explore the thrills and horrors of Mozart and Da Ponte’s tale of depravity and sexual addiction. In this spare version, our anti-hero literally sees flesh everywhere he turns. We see the world through Don Giovanni’s eyes, and it’s a seductive, ultimately self-destructive philosophical point of view (think Sally Bowles singing that harrowing Kander and Ebb anthem, “Cabaret”). Like fellow theater artist choreographer Mark Morris, Mr. Fischer understands the innate yet subtle connection between music and the human experience. It is with this understanding that we the audience take that jump into Don Giovanni’s psyche – and it’s a genuinely gripping first person perspective, very far removed from the problematic, two dimensional, and sometimes wearying, experiences one typically has with this opera.

Musically, Mr. Fischer coaxed an exceptionally rich performance from his orchestra. Tempos were exemplary, never confusing with speed with spirit, yet propelling the story forward with panache and momentous inevitability. If the singing wasn’t up to the level of the playing in the pit, the cast was solid and at least fully invested in Mr. Fischer’s vision. Most successful were Christopher Maltman and José Fardiha as the titular character and his sidekick Leporello, respectively. Mr. Maltman infused Don Giovanni, both vocally and dramatically, with a visceral defiance and menacing, hard-edged grit. This was a sex addict to be truly wary of. Mr. Fardiha, on the other hand, showed wonderful comedic chops, and his take on the role evidenced itself in the openness and warmth of his singing (in fascinating contrast to Mr. Maltman’s forceful sound). Both refreshingly sang the score as an organic extension of plot and their characterizations, and their rapport with each other was impeccable. But the clear star of the evening was indisputably Mr. Fischer himself. Over the past decade or so, he has emerged as one of the most important music makers in the world of classical music. I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeves next.



Mostly Mozart Festival, Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center
Three hours (with one intermission)

Categories: Music, Opera, Other Music

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